Gary Covington spent 30 years wondering who his parents were, nearly as many searching for a sister he’d never known.
What did it get him?
Last year, the Olympia resident and Lakewood teacher learned he had not one sibling but eight — and he’s spent the past 15 months getting to know them.
“Growing up adopted, you feel this loss deep down inside no matter how much your adopted parents love you,” said Covington, a 66-year-old Clover Park Technical College automotive program instructor.
“I harbored anger all my life. I felt abandoned.”
Raised in Tacoma by adoptive parents Jack and Thelma Covington, he grew up and settled in a small house in Olympia. He decided to pursue the biological parents who had left him at a Seattle orphanage the day after he was born.
“I wrote to Medina Children’s Home in 1985 and didn’t hear back until 1988,” Covington said. “I’d basically given up by then, when I got a letter from them saying they’d found records from 1949.
“They said my birth mother was German and Irish, 5-foot-7 and Catholic. It turned out she was Jewish. They said my father was English and Scot, born in Kentucky.
“They said the couple was about to divorce, and my mom could not provide for me. She already had a 15-month-old daughter named Nancy.”
He was fascinated, but didn’t have much to go on — no family name to research, no tell-tale clue to unravel the whereabouts of his parents or sister.
Gary wanted so badly to find his family. He would get bummed out, talk about giving up. I finally said a little prayer: Lord, you know where they are — please show us.
What did he do next?
“I stewed on that for awhile,” he said.
Covington takes his time on the important decisions of his life. Just ask his wife, Diana.
“We first met at Curtis High School in 1963,” Diana said. “Gary wanted to take me out, but I’d never been on a date. Finally, my mother got on the phone and told him to stop calling. That was it for about 30 years.”
In 1988, Covington joined the staff at Clover Park Technical College, where by chance, six months later, Diana was hired as an administrative assistant.
“I was going through a staff directory, trying to familiarize myself, and I saw his name,” Diana said.
A year later, she was introduced at a staff meeting and scanned the crowd. The last time she’d seen Covington, she said, “he had Coke-bottle glasses and curly hair he kept straight with something he put on his head.”
What she saw decades later was a handsome man with a “mane of graying hair and a purple shirt.”
Covington recognized Diana, was interested and would occasionally leave a greeting card in her mail slot. But Covington did not ask her out until 1992 and continued to take his time after that.
Five years later, Diana knew she was head over heels. Covington? He was in love, but cautious — that old fear of abandonment.
“He told me if we were still seeing each other after 10 years, we’d get married,” Diana said.
Remarkably, she went along. In 2002, they were married.
By that time, Covington had returned to his search for roots.
He checked Seattle newspaper birth announcements and found that only two boys were born on his birthday. One was easily crossed off his list. The second, Mrs. Edward Helton, had given birth that day and when he looked up her address in a reverse directory, he found she was married to an Edward V. Helton.
Online, he could find no mention of them, or his sister Nancy.
“I felt like giving up, and at times I did,” he said.
There was a reason I couldn’t find them. Four were born in New York, two in Germany and two in South Carolina.
Diana went on a paid ancestry site and found the unlikeliest link — a possible cousin who lived in Spanaway. They met him last year.
“We went and knocked on his door,” Covington said. “He looked at us, went to another door, opened it and said, ‘You’ve got the Helton eyebrows.’ ”
The cousin passed along Nancy’s name and address and said the Helton family had been holding reunions in Kentucky every year since the 1920s.
Covington reached out to Nancy. She told him that her parents had never divorced and that she had seven younger brothers and sisters; they didn’t know about an eighth sibling who’d been given up for adoption.
Covington took a DNA test, matching himself with Nancy and a brother who lived in Alaska.
“It came back 99.9 percent certainty we had the same parents,” he said.
His father had died in 1975, his mother in 2009. His siblings had been born from 1948 to 1965. Suddenly, he had five brothers and three sisters, all scattered around the country.
He and Nancy, who lived in Georgia, spent hours on the telephone. At a 2014 reunion in Kentucky, he met all three sisters.
Meeting my sisters was like meeting my mom. We hugged, it was overwhelming. We all cried.
“My youngest sister and I look like twins,” Covington said.
He kept planning trips and meetings and has now met the entire family.
“I keep a spreadsheet of everyone’s birthdays.”
Diana has been stunned by the newfound family ties.
“For years, we’d tried to imagine what they’d be like,” she said. “Every one of them has embraced us like we’d known them our whole lives.
“It’s like the answer to a prayer, finding them.”